PETER G. PRONTZOS
Published on: November 25, 2016 Last Updated: November 28, 2016 8:18 AM PSTBoiling Point: Government Neglect, Corporate Abuse, and Canada’s Water Crisis
By Maude Barlow
At one of the teleconferences that Noam Chomsky did with my political science classes a few years ago, a student asked a question about corporate globalization. Chomsky began by stating that resistance is not futile, and went on to cite the vital contribution made by Maude Barlow and the Council of Canadians in contributing to the defeat of the corporate-friendly trade deal known as the Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI).
That victory is one of the more important achievements by a woman who not only chairs the Council, but who has written 17 books, been awarded 14 honorary doctorates, and was appointed Senior Advisor on Water to the 63rd President of the United Nations General Assembly (Miguel D’Escoto).
It is hardly surprising, then, that she has chosen to focus on Canada’s looming water crisis in her latest book, Boiling Point. While her main focus is on national problems, there is, unfortunately, much that specifically concerns British Columbia.
Perhaps the first point to stress is that the belief that Canada has an abundance of water is dangerously misleading. One reason, as Barlow explains is that: “We face serious issues of water contamination … overextraction, glacial melt, and climate change. Extractive energy and mining projects endanger our waterways. … There are even renewed calls to allow bulk commercial water exports.”
She states that much of the problem developed when the “Harper government gutted the regulatory framework that – modest as it was – held the promise of protections for Canada’s lakes, rivers, and groundwater.” Moreover, the Conservative government shut down hundreds of, “research projects, facilities and institutes conducting scientific research.” (Indeed, the attack on science was so destructive that it was condemned by international delegates attending the convention of the American Association for the Advancement of Science here in Vancouver in 2012).
Despite the United Nations resolution in 2010 that declared clean drinking water a human right, being, “essential for the full enjoyment of the right to life,” Canada — unlike most other industrial countries — has no national standards for drinking water. This is one key reason why there are 163 Drinking Water Advisories for first nations communities alone.
It is, however, the provinces which have the primary responsibility to manage water resources. In British Columbia, a lack of concern, along with the lack of funding, are among the reasons why the Nazko First Nation, for instance, was under a “do not consume” warning for 17 years.
Another example is the Mount Polley Mine disaster in 2014, when the tailings pond collapsed, “sending 24 billion litres of mining waste into the pristine waters of Quesnel Lake … the source of drinking water for the local community and a major sockeye salmon spawning ground.”
The growth of fracking to access shale gas is not only responsible for an increase in earthquakes in this province, but in 2012 alone, “B.C.’s fracking industry used more than seven billion litres of water.” If, however, fracking increases as planned, Barlow predicts that, “the water needed to get the shale gas out of the ground will increase 500 per cent or more.”
Then there is the bottled water industry in B.C., which pays next to nothing for our water.
Barlow cites other threats to water in British Columbia, such as the problems associated with the Site C Dam, excessive logging, new mines and the clear-cutting of forests.
And then there is the danger from drought (and the resulting forest fires), as we’ve seen in the past few years, leading to increased water restrictions which followed a reduction in rainfall. There is little doubt that the main reason for drought – here, in California, and around the world – is global warming, which will only get worse over the next few decades.
Still, Barlow concludes on a hopeful note, providing reasonable solutions that show how “a blue and just Canada is possible.”
She understands, however, that while most large corporations will do almost anything to increase profits, the primary responsibility for protecting citizens lies with governments at all levels. Barlow makes a convincing case that both our provincial and federal governments are failing this fundamental duty.
Perhaps our elected representatives should be reminded that they have a legal obligation to ensure the well-being of all of their citizens. Renowned University of British Columbia ecologist William Rees (of “environmental footprint” fame) argues that government officials who ignore their duties may be guilty of criminal negligence. Rees notes that “the Criminal Code (Section 219) is clear that lack of intent to harm is no defence if the damage results from conscious acts performed in careless disregard for others: ‘Everyone is criminally negligent who (a) in doing anything, or (b) in omitting to do anything that it is his duty to do, shows wanton or reckless disregard for the lives or safety of other persons’.”
If this threat is not sufficient motivation, then we, the people, have the obligation to replace our current elected officials with those who will take seriously their duty protect Canada and Canadians.
Peter G. Prontzos taught political science at Langara College, Vancouver.http://vancouversun.com/entertainment/books/boiling-mad-over-canadas-water-crisis